Thursday, April 28, 2016


"Give thanks to the Lord" is kinda like the "once upon a time" of the Psalms. Seriously. While not every psalm has to start that way, if you don't have something else, give it a whirl. I'm sure some ancient songwriter would agree.

Here's a confession: I'm been restless lately. I've lived in my apartment for over three years and had the same job for over three years. It's the longest I've lived in any place since I was 17. Actually, this is the longest I've held a single job, too. I happen to have a job I like, with people I like. Still, I've been restless, longing for something new. 

A man I've eaten dinner with a few times stopped by today, asking for help. We ate dinner together because he was homeless; now he's homeless again. The reasons why have little to do with him and lot to do with other people's decisions and not enough money. I gave him and his wife part of their car payment due tomorrow, filled up their gas tank, and gave them a gift card to buy groceries. All told, it was just over $100. If we had more regular requests from people, I couldn't be so generous. As is, we collect change in gray buckets on the first Sunday of each month; it adds up pretty quickly and I can usually meet the occasional request for some gas or food. His request was the first one I've fulfilled this year. He sat in my office, talked about living in his car, worrying about his wife, and still said, "God is good."

I nodded and he said, "No, really. I asked God to get me through this and he's already doing it. You."

Right. Jesus said that whatever we did for the least of these, we did for him. I know that. I talk about cooperation with divine will all the time. I deeply believe we are called to work with God, longing for the same things, seeking the same justice, camping out near God's reign. Yet, I sometimes forget.

I've been reading a stack of books on evangelism lately. One of them diagnosed my problem of restlessness in a painfully direct way: ingratitude. When we want something new, something more, something else, it's because we fail to be grateful for what we have. I hate it when something like that stares me in the face. Gah. It's not just the stuff, though there's plenty to talk about there. The only reason there's a lack of food in my fridge is because I don't want to go grocery shopping. I can afford to live alone, so no one else ate it. There's even a car all my own in the parking lot to get me to the store.

Put the stuff aside, though, and there's still a lot. I serve a church that's willing to take a risk to try and offer no interest loans to poor people, for one. Sometimes my job actually blows my mind in the best ways. Being invited in for life, death, and everything in between. It's one of the most beautiful and crazy things ever.

Somehow, still, I've learned ingratitude.

Today, I'll listen to the echoes, "Give thanks to the Lord." We are, all of us, forgetful people. We have to be reminded often.

So I'll remind you, "Give thanks to the Lord."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Give It Time

I was right. I don't mean to be unbearable cocky, but I was right. And I kinda like being right. (You should absolutely read all of those sentences with a degree of levity and sarcasm, even though, yeah, I like being right.)

This sermon was preached at my church on Sunday. You should go listen, then come back and keep reading. (If you fail to follow the listening instructions basically: a woman came to church to explore Christianity, expecting to fulfill a project, and found out that this church was way different than what she expected, in the very best way possible.)

Mostly, I was wonderfully amazed and pleased that she found my church to be who we say we are and who we believe God has called us to be. We're open to people who often haven't been welcome in church, we think critically, we seek justice. What was I right about? It takes time.

She committed to be with us for months. She worshipped here for a year. She came in expecting to hang around for a while. I see people come to my church for a Sunday, or two Sundays, or three Sundays, then disappear. I see my friends try churches in all the different places they live. They go once or twice, then give up.

Y'all. I get it. As much time as I've spent in church, I actually do get how hard it is to walk into a place where you don't know anyone. I psych myself out to make it happen. I back out at the last minute. I sit in my car on the phone in the parking lot once I get there. Then there are the people once you go inside, and that's a whole other daunting thing.

I get that in a whole other way. Whatever crazy thing a church person has said to you, it won't surprise me. Actually, let's go have drinks and talk about all those crazy things. We'll laugh. We'll cry. It'll be great--and holy.

I've worn the wrong thing. I'm pretty much always overdressed after moving to Arizona. More times than I can count, I've said the wrong thing. One time, I was on a boat with people, two of whom were married. They were talking about marriage. I don't remember what, exactly, they were talking about except she said, "I have to do what he says. The Bible says so." I laughed and responded, "Yeah, right!" She was serious. I was the only one laughing. Did I mention we were on a boat? I don't mean a cruise ship. I mean a pontoon. Have you ever considered if you could swim back to shore? I have! (And no, I couldn't.)

So often I remind myself that the disciples got to hang out with Jesus for three years and they still got it wrong a whole lot of the time. I wish it weren't true, but it is: this thing called church takes time.

If you're one of those people who doesn't quite get why people do church, but you're vaguely interested: give it time. I'm serious. Commit to show up for six months, or maybe just three. Every Sunday. Every single Sunday. Bring food or socks or whatever else they're collecting. (In even three months, there should be at least one chance!) Sign up for the workday or serving food to the homeless or whatever else they're doing. (Yep, in three months, there should be at least one chance!)

Give it time. And see what you think then. You might have a whole different outlook if you give it time.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Church Wedding

A few days ago, a guy told me the average cost for a wedding is now $32,000. It was the first time I'd seen him since I got engaged the previous weekend. He guessed, rightly, my wedding wouldn't be that sort of wedding.

Few of the wedding websites I've visited in the last months have been helpful. We've been planning the wedding for a while; the ring just took a while. The unsurprising reason weddings cost so much money is that it is an industry--one that thrives on sentiment, the chance to be at the center of everything for once, and a once in a lifetime experience. I get why all that is compelling. I'm also not interested in doing it. I still believe a wedding is more a religious service more than anything else. Therefore, planning a wedding is mostly about how we choose to do church.

And here's what I believe about that:

There should be room for children, and babies, and teenagers. They should be as wonderfully welcome as adults, even with their crying and loudness and awkwardness. Actually, there should be room for everyone. Scoot closer, set up another table, share what needs sharing. Make a little more room.

There should be food. It should be good food, eaten together. Rules of etiquette are simple: say please and thank you. Make sure everyone has enough and a friend if they need it. 

We're all in relationship with God. Worship is never a performance of a few; it's the gathering of many. Let's sing together and pray together. Let's tell our holy story together. 

There should be laughter. The most solemn of all occasions still have space for joy and for laughter. If you never laugh at a funeral, you're doing it wrong. Joy and sorrow are not as opposed as we're told. Church has space for tears and laughter, especially in the same moment.

Everyone is welcome. This one might be the craziest way to do a wedding of all.

Still, we're working on doing a wedding the way we think church should be. (I said, "We!" Someone who asked me to marry him has accused me of using I when it should be we.) There will be childcare for the people who need it and no complaints if no one uses it. The congregation will take vows along with us. There will not be a soloist around, but we made sure to ask what hymnal the church uses. The food truck has been booked (mmm...bacon!). It's crazy to say, but there aren't as many details as I've been told there are. We're just doing church, after all. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen and we're just fine with that. Also, while there is an invitation list, by all means, if you want to come to my our wedding, come to my our wedding. Just tell me so there's plenty of food.

This is church. It happens to be the wedding version of church, but still church. This same church taught me at least one other thing that really, really matters when talking about a wedding, too: be faithful stewards of all God's gifts. Suffice it to say that this wedding will be well under the $32,000 mark. We wouldn't be good stewards of our gifts if we spent anywhere near that amount.

It's strange how planning a wedding has me dreaming of church, again. How often we forget that with everything we do, we're hoping to live into the reign of God even more fully.